OPINION

Why AT&T and Comcast Are Changing Their Brands

After giving a speech, I was asked a question that got me thinking. Many of you may be wondering about this too. AT&T and Comcast have two of the strongest brand names in the business — so why in the world are they both suddenly changing them? What are we, as customers and investors, not aware of?

AT&T’s new brand is “Rethink Possible” and Comcast’s is “Xfinity.” One is a brand remake, and the other is a master brand remake, which means changing the name and brand of the company in the consumer mind and marketplace. Over the years, I have worked with most of the competitors, and I have seen this happen before. Let me explain what is happening and whether it will work for both companies. I think my answer may surprise you.

First, a bit of history. One decade ago, some of the seven baby bells that are now AT&T, Verizon and Qwest (which is now merging with CenturyTel), started selling a television service called “Americast.” Imagine that, we thought, television from a phone company.

Writing on the Wall

The phone companies saw the writing on the wall back then. Americast put them into competition with the cable television companies, which at the time were many small companies. Then the baby bells started merging, so TV was put on hold.

Next, the cable television companies made their move. Seeing what the phone companies did, and after merging into fewer and larger companies like Comcast, Time Warner, Cox and Cablevision, they started offering VoIP telephone service over the Internet. That let them compete against the bells.

Recognizing that threat, phone companies recently started to offer their own IPTV television services, like AT&T U-verse and Verizon FiOS. After they ironed out the kinks in the first few months, the quality was excellent, and these services are becoming a real competitor to cable TV.

Then the cable television companies wanted to get into wireless and started reselling cellphones from Sprint. That was a flop. Next, they partnered with Sprint to bring Clearwire into existence, and now they sell a wireless Internet service.

So the new wave of competition in the marketplace has begun. The phone companies’ IPTV services and satellite television companies like DirecTV and DISH are competing with the cable television industry for the big all-or-nothing bundle.

It’s a battle for the whole consumer.

The space will change completely over the next several years, and this changing marketplace represents an incredible opportunity and threat for every competitor. The industry is turning into something very different — a place where every competitor offers everything, and where we choose one company and say goodbye to the rest.

This is the big battle we are watching unfold.

Making New Rules

I like what Comcast CEO Brian Roberts says when he talks about changing the company and the industry in customer’s mind and reaching out to them in new ways. He sounds like he understands the changing opportunities and threats to his business. He is trying to change the cable television side.

You may say competition seems healthy and strong, so why change the brand when things are so good?

To understand the reason you have to pull the camera back and look at the big-picture changes that are reshaping the industry. In the emerging new industry, these companies want to win the coming battle.

Customers, employees and investors don’t understand what is happening yet. They are confused, to put it mildly.

Going forward, each side will lose some customers, but each will enjoy increased earnings from those who remain and buy more services. The same thing is happening to phone companies, cable television companies and wireless companies.

This is a new marketplace where we choose one and say goodbye to the rest. That is the reason for this update in brand strategy.

The master brand today means many different things from 10 years ago, so this new thinking is correct. The question is how to bring the rest of the world up to speed.

The timing works better for some than for others. Let me explain.

First, realize the brand update taking place at AT&T and Comcast will likely occur at most competitors. This is just the start.

As with everything else — timing is key. AT&T and Comcast know the industry is changing, and they want to be first to create a new competitive framework in which they can lead. They figure other competitors will follow and play by the new rules they set up.

That’s their dream. That is the reason for the sudden launch of a rebranding war by these two companies.

However, to rebrand, timing has to be right — and at this point, timing looks better for AT&T than for Comcast, although the cable television company cannot wait.

Pushing a Boulder Uphill

Remember the comedian Lily Tomlin from the 1970s television show “Laugh-In”? She played Ernestine, the telephone company operator. She would say, “one-ringy-dingy, two-ringy-dingies, oh yes gracious me, to whom am I speaking?” Week after week, she would play on people’s disgust with their local phone companies’ full-of-themselves attitude. At that time, local phone companies had no competition, and the customer suffered.

However, since the early 1990s, the phone companies have reinvented themselves and built their new brand and have been continually improving the experience for customers. Because of that effort, they are now rewarded with a loyal customer base.

Now, cable television companies are starting to go through the same change.

In the mid 1990s, the “Seinfeld” television show had Kramer dealing with the cable company in the same way. He was upset with them not showing up, so when he set the next appointment for service, he never showed up, just to show them. That too was a comic way of relating to the way most customers in America feel.

During the last few years, cable television companies have seen competition coming, and they have finally been improving their service and repairing their image in the marketplace. They have made real progress.

We used to have to wait a week or two for a service call, then take the entire day off of work and sit around the house waiting. Today, they try and make an appointment for a specific time. Comcast even has television commercials saying how much they now care.

Comcast has realized the industry is changing, and it has to change with it in order to lead. It has started to make the right moves. However, customers don’t recognize improvements early on.

Changing the Comcast brand before the customer is ready to accept it is like pushing a boulder uphill. It is much slower and harder and may not work.

That is the difference between the two companies. I think AT&T and the phone companies in general have been doing this longer and have a better relationship with the customer and are pushing the brand-change boulder down the hill. Comcast and the cable television companies, on the other hand, are early in the process and are pushing uphill.

I would normally say the cable television companies should wait to change their brand. However if they do, they will miss this industry-changing opportunity to lead.

It is a tough position for Comcast to be in. The company itself caused the problem, however, by its treatment of the customer over the years. That needs to be improved on now. It simply takes time to change the mind of the customer.

So, like I said in answering the question after the speech, I would like to be wrong about this. Like everyone else, I want all competitors to be as successful as they can be as the industry continues to change. Healthy competition is good for customers, investors and workers.

However, it is important to swing the bat at just the right moment if you want to hit the ball out of the park. In today’s changing world, timing is everything — and that’s especially true for an industry undergoing transformation.


Jeff Kagan is an E-Commerce Times columnist and a wireless, telecom and technology analyst, author and consultant. Email him at [email protected].

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OPINION

Snapdragon 8 Suggests the End of PCs and Smartphones as We Know Them

Image Credit: Qualcomm

OK, don’t get excited, the death of PCs and smartphones won’t happen tomorrow. Nor did Qualcomm overtly declare their demise at the company’s annual Snapdragon Tech Summit last week in Hawaii. However, it did announce a level of performance that will eventually make current smartphone and PC designs obsolete.

Qualcomm’s rollout of its new Snapdragon 8 platform promises the beginning of a technology revolution that should rather quickly make everything currently in the market obsolete.

In addition, what will result will arguably be so far beyond anything we have seen so far that it won’t be long until someone figures out both these market segments are soon going to slam together and create something new, powerful, and near magical.

For instance, if your smartphone can take better pictures than a professional SLR, provide music quality that exceeds a high-end sound system, and AI capabilities that make translators and existing digital assistants obsolete, is it really a smartphone anymore or something far greater?

Let’s talk about the new Snapdragon platform. We’ll then close with my product of the week, a new Qualcomm-based gaming platform developed in conjunction with Razor that could change console gaming forever.

A Revolution Is Coming

Typically, if we talk about blended products like amphibious cars, flying cars, or even flying boats you get something that does a couple of things poorly.

Amphibious cars were lousy cars, and tended to sink, the flying cars sucked as cars and tended to fall spectacularly out of the air, and flying boats or amphibious planes weren’t competitive with ships or planes except for some unique situations where you had water but no place to put an airport.

The exception to this rule was the smartphone which initially eclipsed pure cellular phones and MP3 players doing both things as well or better than the focused devices did.

We knew this class of device would continue to evolve from the iPhone wave that began this transition. But year over year, the evolution has been gradual — and when things advance gradually, we often miss the rapidly approaching revolution when the technology gets so good that it no longer makes sense to buy any of the focused devices.

The devices that now are on the list to become obsolete arguably include the iPhone and the traditional PC.

Better Camera Than an SLR

I’m an ex-professional photographer. Although I haven’t practiced for decades, I do know what pros look for in a solution. For some time, we’ve had smartphones that were certainly more portable than a dedicated camera but, largely due to the space limitations, they couldn’t approach the quality of one because no one wants to carry a phone with a true camera lens built into it.

Motorola, a few years ago, did create a camera back for their phone but, when attached, it made the device too large to really use as a phone and it remained a largely impressive, but mostly niche, offering.

We’ve had high resolution sensors for some time but getting around the lens problem appeared to be a bridge too far. We’ve also had advanced photo and video editing tools that photographers could use to come close to SLR quality, but they were costly and required training to do right.

What Qualcomm announced was the application of its AI engine to make these photo enhancements automatically; thus, not only getting around the lens issue and matching or exceeding what a dedicated SLR can do, but doing some things, like one-click panoramic pictures, better.

Typically, with a panoramic picture you must pan the image while the phone takes a series of pictures and then blends them together to create a panorama. With the Snapdragon 8 solution users only need to take one shot in panoramic mode to get a 140-degree picture.

AI Heavy

Until now the AI capabilities in phones were almost non-existent. With Snapdragon 8 the included AI grows up to be a major function in the phone.

Not only does it significantly enhance pictures and videos, but it can also be used for things like inbound and outbound noise cancellation and to create a far smarter digital assistant than we have today.

The AI can also be used to render digital avatars for future video conferencing products and use the phone sensors to instrument the body to allow those avatars to look more realistic — a critical step on our move to eventually working in the metaverse.

Gaming

Game consoles have two major problems: most aren’t portable, and they typically are on a five-year plus refresh cycle because of the razor and blade model the segment utilizes.

What if you could get equivalent performance from either your smartphone or dedicated Android game system that was nearly as portable?

Qualcomm presented both concepts, smartphone capability that rivaled a game console and would advance at smartphone speeds, with lower cost games that didn’t have to pay for the cost of the hardware, and a handheld developer platform announced initially with Razer.

We’ll go into more detail on the game system later — but the level of performance in this initial attempt was impressive in both visual and sound, making me wonder if game consoles were about to become obsolete.

Music

The music demonstration using a lossless audio stream was particularly impressive.

They hooked the demo phone to a pair of $7K speakers and the sound was amazing. The depth and sound range rivaled some of the best high-end sound systems I’ve previously listened to; and while I doubt any of us will be buying $7K speakers to listen to music from our phones, we do buy high-end sound systems for our cars. This should make listening to music off our phones on those systems a more awesome experience.

Up until now it often seemed that paying for a high-end car sound system was a bit of a waste if you were listening to the typical compressed sound streams that current phones provide. But with this new platform, I’m dying to see what the result will be when I plug into the premium sound systems in my cars (yes, I did pay extra anyway and would really like to get the value from my purchase).

PC Performance

When you can demonstrate PC-level performance on a smartphone you begin to ask whether the smartphone could take over for the PC with the right set of accessories.

Lenovo showcased its head-mounted display at the event, and it has what is arguably the best portable keyboard in the market. While they have not announced a blended product yet, I imagine they eventually will and, in a few months, we may wonder if most folks who are increasingly running their applications in the cloud need both devices.

For now, Lenovo is focused on laptops with Snapdragon processors. Yet with this level of performance, you start to wonder if you really need two devices with similar performance levels.

Wrapping Up

The smartphones that will use this new Snapdragon platform should start announcing before the end of the year and you’ll particularly want to watch for the Motorola version which I’ve heard will be amazing. This next generation promises to be a better music player, better camera, better gaming platform, and a dammed good phone as well.

I think this is the beginning of a revolution. When companies like Razer, Lenovo, Acer, and HP, all of which have shown a high level of creativity over the years, figure out the potential to revolutionize the market and use the revolution to dominate it, the change should be both amazing and massive. I can hardly wait.

Rob Enderle's Technology Product of the Week

The Qualcomm / Razer Gaming Platform

Sadly, you won’t be able to buy this gaming system for a while as it is in prototype form at the moment. Though at the Qualcomm event I was surprised at the huge esports interest in smartphone gaming in Asia.

I get why gaming in transit on a smartphone is fun but when you are stationary at an event why would you limit yourself in the same way? This would be like being at home watching a movie on your phone while sitting in front of a 4K TV that you could use instead.

In addition, the limited screen is taken up by game controls and your fingers as you play — and those that play must turn off much of the graphics to limit the latency. This makes sense if you want to just win the game, but part of the fun in gaming, at least to me, is enjoying the richness of the graphics.

Now, what if you created a smartphone just for gaming? Granted that has been done before without a great deal of success, but much of the problem with earlier gaming phones was that the gaming content was designed for non-gaming phones, so you got the downside of a specialized device without the upside of a truly better experience.

But thanks to the interest, again largely out of Asia, for games that approach console games in terms of graphics and richness and advances in performance like we’ve seen with Qualcomm’s prior high-performance processors, we now have decent content.

So, Qualcomm partnered with Razer, one of the premier builders of gaming laptops, to create a smartphone-based gaming system focused on gaming — and it looks awesome.

Snapdragon G3x Gen 1 Gaming Platform

Snapdragon G3x Gen 1 Gaming Platform (Image Credit: Qualcomm)


It is the perfect size to use while riding in the upcoming wave of autonomous cars, and I would have killed to have one on the six-hour plane trip to and from Hawaii to the Qualcomm event.

Even though you can’t get one for Christmas this year, it’s not too late to prepare for next year — and with the supply shortages you probably should plan early. In any case, the new gaming platform from Qualcomm and Razer is my product of the week.

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Rob Enderle has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an MBA in human resources, marketing and computer science. He is also a certified management accountant. Enderle currently is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester. Email Rob.

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OPINION

Qualcomm and How the Market Is Pivoting From Processor Power to Modem Power

Qualcomm’s investor day was last week and its CEO Cristiano Amon made a comment I disagree with, though the outcome to Qualcomm is the same or better. Amon said everything is going mobile, but I don’t think that is correct.

I argue instead that everything is becoming cloud-connected. I also suggest that this cloud-connected capability favors Qualcomm even more than the mobile aspect of this trend because the cloud is a centralized resource. This shifts the importance of processors at the edge to modems at the edge.

Most of the cameras and sensors rolling out en masse are not mobile. Still, they’re not wired, which means Qualcomm’s market-leading connectivity technology is becoming more critical than the processors in these devices which increasingly use cloud processing power.

Let’s talk about this trend and what it means to you. Then we’ll close with my product of the week, the Lenovo ThinkVision M14t Portable Monitor.

Mobile vs. Cloud

This focus on the cloud isn’t to say mobile isn’t essential and growing, but as we look at solutions like advanced driver-assistance systems (Qualcomm just announced a huge ADAS deal with BMW), a lot is tied to cars and mobile. But some of the downsides to this solution are remote charging (most of the advanced autonomous vehicles will be electric), road sensors, stoplight sensors, weather sensors, and cameras; all of which are not mobile.

This cloud focus doesn’t mean processors won’t be essential, but the increasing bandwidth needs of this cloud advancement appear to be the gating factor for new innovative projects. For instance, remote cameras use AI to selectively send a subset of the data so that bandwidth isn’t overcome with too much data. Yet the problem with being selective is that critical information may be lost.

For example, if the AI in a camera is set to only alert and send video when a non-employee is in range of the camera. What if an employee shows up at a plant site armed and upset about being laid off, getting a bad review, or because they’ve been bullied? The camera doesn’t send the video because it recognizes the employee and doesn’t recognize the threat.

So you set to look for a gun, and the employee shows up with a bat or knife; the system may not flag the problem until someone is harmed and may not have captured the event so that security or the police can respond timely.

I had an experience like this recently with my Arlo cameras. They were set to flag people approaching our house, but our cats got out, and those set to flag people didn’t capture the cats, which could have been problematic.

Let’s take another example I ran into at Amazon.

A few years back, Amazon was getting a lot of complaints about slow deliveries, but reporting indicated everything was arriving on time. When a forensic analysis company was brought in, it found that a central distributor, which wasn’t supposed to ship directly to an end customer, was indeed shipping to those customers, and the shipments were consistently late.

Amazon corporate was unaware of the problem because the central distributors weren’t supposed to do this, so their automated data reporting system didn’t flag the behavior. The information that wasn’t being sent to corporate was critical to diagnosing and correcting the problem.

Qualcomm’s modem capability increases available bandwidth, so our need to be selective with that data being sent will be reduced. This reduction should also reduce the amount of unintended bias in the solution, resulting in better results.

Decisions made on biased results are far more likely to be wrong. When you are bottlenecked on bandwidth, the technology that relieves that bandwidth is on the critical path, which gives Qualcomm a significant competitive advantage.

Cloud PC

Ever since we moved off of mainframe computers, we’ve been trying to move back, probably because terminals are more like TVs than PCs, and users are far less involved in the care of TVs than PCs. With mainframes, the service, software update, and hardware update processes were all handled centrally.

Whether for gaming or productivity, the market is now exploring Windows Virtual Desktop, where your operating system and apps run in the cloud. The advantages of this approach mirror the advantages of mainframes and terminals. You can get access to the performance you need without upgrading your PCs, and all of the maintenance processes are handled by the cloud provider.

This increasing emphasis on the cloud for performance shifts focus from pure performance to battery life on the endpoint device.

Qualcomm-based laptops have the advantage because they are designed to optimize battery life, not absolute performance. They are still fully capable of fielding productivity apps, entertainment apps (though not top-level games), and whatever you do on the web. For anything requiring performance, you use cloud services which provide the advantage of near-unlimited capabilities with little impact on battery life.

As we move into this new cloud-connected world, Qualcomm’s focus on reducing power consumption increases its advantage.

The Metaverse

One of the latest trends is the multiverse and digital twins. But to make digital twins truly functional for simulation, these twins have to remain synchronized with their physical siblings.

This critical connection will require instrumenting the physical aspects of the world that are duplicated to ensure this synchronization is timely. However, it will also require users to wear some mobile visual interface to experience some of the AR overlays that the metaverse promises. In 2007, HP provided a kind of metaverse experience demonstration called Roku’s Reward. It remains one of the best demonstrations of bridging what is real and virtual into a compelling experience.

The headsets required for this experience, like the Occulus Quest, also use Qualcomm’s solutions to provide high performance and high-speed connectivity coupled with long battery life. Both the quality of the experience and the accuracy of the metaverse will depend on Qualcomm technology.

Wrapping Up

While mobility is a trend, the more significant course of events benefiting Qualcomm is the shift to remote processing, which leverages its modem market leadership and emphasizes its processor focus on power per watt.

The company is well-positioned for this new future that includes a move from the distributed, reality-based world to centralized computing, a virtually-augmented world defined by AI and the metaverse of the future.

Rob Enderle's Technology Product of the Week

Lenovo ThinkVision M14t USB-C Mobile Monitor

The ThinkVision M14t portable monitor at $384 isn’t a cheap date. Still, it proved capable of one convenient operation when I tested it: I could sign a document from a desktop computer that didn’t have a touch screen (doing a signature with a mouse sucks).

This monitor is touch-enabled and it comes with a pen. It has a 1080 resolution, a 14-inch form factor, and a 16:9 orientation so you can do full-screen streaming videos while working on your laptop screen.

Users who will make the most of this device will be those that need to interact with the screen while using a desktop PC or workstation or a laptop that doesn’t have a tablet function. This user group would include artists, reviewers (who use a pen), teachers grading digital documents, and lawyers or contract administrators who review digital contracts.

If you want a second screen, there are less expensive choices, but you can interact with it as if it was a tablet if you need something with that capability. The base allows you to switch from landscape to portrait if you want to vertically orient the document you are reviewing or the drawing you’re creating.

Another use of this monitor is a current-generation smartphone with USB-C, allowing you to expand the screen with full touch on your smartphone to 14 inches. Depending on how you use this monitor, you might be able to leave your laptop at home. With a Bluetooth mouse and keyboard, your phone can act as your computing device connected to Windows Virtual Desktop in the cloud.

As discussed above, this cloud-use case may be the way we work in the future. The ThinkVision M14t can help you explore that trend before it goes from how we will work to how we’re working now. It may be the ideal way to experience the cloud-connected virtual PC world of the future, and it is my product of the week.

(The ThinkVision M14t was available as of this writing. Supply shortages are plaguing the industry so availability might fluctuate.)

The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of ECT News Network.

Rob Enderle has been an ECT News Network columnist since 2003. His areas of interest include AI, autonomous driving, drones, personal technology, emerging technology, regulation, litigation, M&E, and technology in politics. He has an MBA in human resources, marketing and computer science. He is also a certified management accountant. Enderle currently is president and principal analyst of the Enderle Group, a consultancy that serves the technology industry. He formerly served as a senior research fellow at Giga Information Group and Forrester. Email Rob.

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